Sunday, November 08, 2009

Who thinks genes are important?

GSS respondents were asked about the reasons why someone's life turns out well or poorly. One of the options presented to them was worded like this: "Some people are born with better genes than others." The answer seems pretty obvious to me. For example, if you have the gene for Huntington's disease, things are going to turn out badly for you. Genes for autism are going to change the course of your life just a wee bit.

But the most common answer given was "not important at all" (31%).  We really do live in a gene minimizing culture. Most people think in terms of environnment or free will.

I was pleased to see that my kind of folks have more sense. I looked at two factors--political views and church attendance--and discovered that the mean score among whites for thinking genes are important is significantly higher for extreme conservatives, while all the other political categories--conservative through extremely liberal--do not differ. Second, when lumped together, those who attend church more than weekly, weekly, or almost weekly have a significantly higher mean than those who never go or who go no more than once a year. My guess is that PC thinking has infected my group the least.    


  1. At the point where the precise genetic cause has been isolated, as it has with Huntington's, genetic therapy is starting to give an out to the "genes don't matter" folks: gene therapy.

    This is similar to the "race doesn't matter" transhumanist position which is basically that "What's the deal with all you Nazi's worrying about blond hair and blue eyes when those are going to be in huge demand when everyone is engineering their kids?"

    And, of course, for people who are shallow enough to care about such isolated phenotypes, the future is bright indeed. They share the fallacy of Lewontin's optimism.

  2. Anonymous12:37 PM

    "Who thinks genes are important?"

    A Court of Appeal in Trieste.

  3. It is interesting that the religious tend to have stronger beliefs in the influence of genes, given all the flak they catch for having insufficiently materialist worldviews.

    I did not realize that autism had been determined to have genetic causes, although it wouldn't surprise me if it did. I knew the childhood vaccination theory promoted by renowned scientist Jenny McCarthy had no serious support.

  4. Jason Malloy10:51 AM

    I would guess there is a correlation with Calvinism. Catholics are more open to the idea that tribespeople in the Amazon might go to heaven, while a lot of protestants believe God predestined them for hellfire. Also the Germanic ethnic groups seem to be more favorable to genes. (i.e. WASPs like genes; so they probably aren't entirely just like you).

  5. Commodore10:53 AM

    Or, perhaps there's a strong Calvinist backbone (or maybe rump) still running through American Christianity, and the logical coorelation is grasped.

  6. Anonymous7:56 AM

    In interpreting an answer to an opinion poll, you have to mentally prefix the phrase: "I've never thought about this seriously, but..." You shouldn't interpret them literally.

    My guess is that a lot of people read the question's underlying meaning as "Are you a racist who hates blacks and hispanics?" and are responding "No, I am a decent, well-meaning person."

    It's an exchange of symbols, not a factual question and answer.

    I think polling results about evolution are similarly skewed.


What is the profile of a scientifically knowledgeable person?

Scientific progress is crucial for the problems we humans face, but what types of people know science the best? The General Social Survey ...